Becoming A More Welcoming Church (Reconciliation in Christ)

Faith story from Cassi Smith

The problem with “welcome” signs on the front of churches is that most churches have them.


And few of them are honest.


While in college I attended a non-denominational, contemporary mega church, which was friendly.

And more importantly, it was where many other students attended.  


A popular perspective for sermons on Sunday morning was that all humans are flawed and must seek forgiveness. One Sunday morning the Pastor stayed along these lines until he preached that marriage was between one man and one woman and that homosexuals must seek forgiveness from God and turn from their sin.


A man in the front row stood up, zipped up his coat and walked down the middle aisle and out the door.


Being an insecure 20 year old, I remained seated and it is one of my more haunting regrets.


Through my college years of course, I gradually cared less and less what other people thought. And I thought more and more about what God would want.


In the gospel text today, the people are surprised that the carpenter is preaching in the synagogue.


And that’s why Jesus presents a problem for me.


Jesus does not stay a carpenter pontificating about God, what peace and justice is and wouldn’t it be nice if these sorts of things happened in the world. No instead throughout the gospel Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman, touching the unclean people, and challenging the theological assumptions that the Pharisees have made.  Not to mention, flipping tables in a temple.


The problem with sitting around listening to your media outlet of choice, thinking that everything is fine because you’re an open minded person and a supportive person to the oppressed is that it misses the point of what Jesus has called his followers to do.


I could sit and listen to NPR, read the New York Times, quietly tell my friends that I’m an LGBT ally.  But that does not do a lot of good.  And it’s certainly not what I’m called to do.


Sure more than 10 years have passed since I should have walked out on that sermon and society has changed.  Marriage is legal, many churches are loving and accepting of the LGBT community, but the narrative of a church that has alienated a segment of society with hate speech has a far longer, and loud and prominent history.


In Seminary I had the opportunity to carry my school’s banner in the Columbus, Ohio pride parade and have marched in others since.


It’s an emotionally powerful thing to do, carry a religious organization’s banner.


Because inevitably there are tears, cheers and “thank yous” from spectators.


And there is anger and frustration when a person with a megaphone is quoting Bible verses and telling you you’re going to hell.  


Unfortunately, the later is the more staying experience with members of the LGBT community since the church repeatedly dismissed a portion of their identity as a sin and an abomination.


And the problem with just being a “welcoming” church without a public welcome to the LGBT community is that it’s like Jesus sitting in the carpenter shop.  He’s not activated in ministry and we’re not activated in reconciling the damage that the church has already done.


So I’m done with sitting and watching the church continue to hurt the LGBT community.


Over the next months I hope you’ll join the Task Force in meaningful dialogue as to what makes a church welcoming to you and how this congregation can become a publicly welcoming place for all.


It’s A Big Tent (A very very very big tent)


Commemoration of James of Jerusalem – It’s a Big Tent (A very very very big tent)

October 23, 2016

Acts 15:12-21a


When I was 9 or 10 years old,

I was in a club.

It was a small club – just a couple of friends and me.


We called ourselves the ‘secret club,’

And we met in the basement of a friend’s house.

We thought it was great fun – and this is what we did:

As we huddled in Sue Cooke’s basement,

we wrote the ‘rules’ for our club.

That’s it..

That’s all we did.

Write rules for ourselves.


We had rules for when we would meet,

And rules for what we would wear,

And I seem to remember that we spent the most time writing

Rules for who could be in our club and who could not.


It seems whenever two or three people gather….

We come up with rules for who can join with us and who can’t.


Our story from Acts is a tale of two churches and their rules.

One is in Jerusalem and one in Antioch.

Continue reading

The Times They Are A’Changin’


Pentecost 22C – The Times They are A’Changin’

Genesis 32:22-31

Luke 18:1-8

October 16, 2016

“For the times they are a’ changin’ …”

That’s my best Dylan…

Many who know Bob Dylan

Weren’t all that surprised to hear the news

That he won this year’s Nobel prize for literature.


Dylan is a poet whose lyrics have captured moments in our nation’s history

in a heartfelt way.

His songs became the movement in many cases.


“For the times – they are a’changin’”

Dylan wrote this song in late 1963.

It became an anthem for the change coming

as a result of the civil rights movement.


“For the times – they are a’ changin’”

“The waters are rising,” he says,

Join with them and swim – or sink to the ground.

“For the times – they are a’changin’”


He tells Congress to move out of the way;

that if they want to be on the right side of history;

now is the time to take part.

“For the times – they are a’changin’”


And quoting Scripture he reminds us,

“And the first one now will later be last.

For the times – they are a’ changin’”


Dylan writes songs about struggle…

When times change – when anything changes that we didn’t necessarily ask for,

and weren’t necessarily prepared for,

there’s struggle.


It can be as mundane as the change back to daylight savings time

  • that’s struggle!


But the deeper struggles come with the changes

that leave us knowing things will never be the same again:

  • the loss of a loved one
  • a divorce
  • and for some, the struggle is especially difficult with societal change –

when those who have been oppressed demand equal rights:

– the widow back in Jesus’ day who demands justice;

– and the women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community who demand the same thing today

“For the times, they are a’ changin’…”

and some are really struggling.


As far as I know, Dylan never wrote a song though

About Jacob…


I’d like to share with you 3 gems about the story of Jacob wrestling with God[i]

written by Benedictine nun Joan Chittister:

  1. When you’re met with change you did not ask for and you do not want – there will be struggle
  2. You can choose to grow from that struggle (or not)
  3. Struggle always comes with a cost – real struggle marks us for life


Jacob is in a good place as the story begins.

It seems that everything in life is finally falling into place for him.

He has made peace with his father-in-law Laban,

And gone out on his own with his blessing.

“He is financially secure,

Married to the woman he pursued for years,

…Destined to inherit the family fortune.

He’s on the brink of great success.”[ii]


But then something changes.

Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau…

The one he had cheated out of his birthright.

The one he ran away from.

The one he hasn’t seen in over 14 years.


Jacob sends messengers ahead to Esau to let him know he’s coming.

But then one of the messengers returns.

The messenger says that Esau is coming to meet him….

And he’s bringing 400 men.


Jacob is frightened.

This wasn’t part of the plan.

He divides his own people into 2 companies,

Figuring that if ½ are indeed destroyed by Esau,

The other ½ may escape.


Jacob sends gifts ahead to Esau to butter him up –

Goats and bulls and donkeys.


And then the night before they meet,

alone at the side of the Jabbok River…he falls into a restless sleep.


“Oh the times, they are a changin’”


  1. When you’re met with change you did not ask for and you do not want – there will be struggle


And Jacob struggles.

All night he struggles – wrestling with a stranger.

Some historical Jewish texts suggest that he was wrestling with the power of evil;

Others say it was an angel.


We’ve all had nights like that –

Those sleepless nights when we wrestle with our own thoughts and fears…

when we’re really struggling.


The second gem Joan Chittister says,

  1. When we’re in that time of struggle – we can choose to grow from it (or not).


She says that struggle is intensified when we feel trapped;

when we feel like we have no options.

But when we feel like we have no options,

it’s only because we lack imagination.

We can’t imagine that with the pain of change,

Ultimate blessing might be hidden within it.[iii]


In the midst of unwanted change, she says,

We can simply grow older

Or we can choose to grow new.


This afternoon I’m attending the 90th birthday of a friend and mentor of mine.


John has had some struggles this past year –

Heart issues, mobility issues, kidney issues;

He and his wife sold their beautiful country home overlooking a valley

and moved to a two bedroom apartment.

John started dialysis –

3 days a week; 6 hours each time.


For the times they are a’changin’ – and the changes are not ones John chose for himself.


But rather than simply grow older,

John has decided to begin again – to grow new.

He’s writing a new book.

He started a YouTube channel where he reads poetry.

And today he’s hosting a birthday party for himself…

He’s got the party schedule all figured out:

There is the gathering at 2pm;

There is the singing at 2:45pm;

There is the eating at 3pm;

And then at 4pm there is what John calls the “holding forth” – his turn to share what turning 90 means to him

(He’s made it clear that he will be the only one ‘holding forth’ –

he said that we’ll have to wait until the funeral to talk!)


In the face of change,

John has chosen not to grow simply older;

he has chosen to grow new.


Jacob wrestles all night with this stranger.

He has a choice…

He can give in and give up…

Or he can hold on for the blessing which may be hidden within it.


Jacob chooses to hold on for the blessing.

He refuses to let go of the hope that somehow in the midst of this struggle,

There is a blessing – there is hope – for him.


And Jacob is right…

He receives blessing…but not without a cost.


Joan Chittister’s 3rd gem is that

  1. Real struggle comes with a cost – we are marked for life.


Jacob limps.

Ever after, Jacob limps.


Those of us who have lived through real struggles know that those struggles mark us for life:

They come with a cost.

They remain deep within us and cannot be undone or forgotten.


The woman who is an alcoholic

Knows what it’s like to struggle with an addiction

Which never completely goes away.


The man whose spouse has been unfaithful

Knows what it’s like to receive an unexpected phone call

Or text message.


The one who has been sexually assaulted

Knows what it’s like to hear stories of assault on the news that are accepted as ‘normal.’


We can choose to grow from struggle,

But it still leaves a mark – a wound.

Sometimes the wound is that we’re more fearful, or angry,

Or more compassionate or more naïve.

It leaves us limping a bit like Jacob.


Chittister adds, however:

“We limp forever to remind us, not that we are weak,

But that inside us lies the strength…(to) hold on…,

To struggle and survive.”[iv]


Jacob names his place of struggle, “Peniel,”

which in Hebrew means, “I have seen the face of God and survived.”


Oh the times, they are a’changin’….

In the midst of the struggles of unwanted change we face,

May we choose growth;

May we hold on for the blessing;

And scarred though we may be, may we name those scars, “Peniel”:

“I have seen the face of God and survived!”



[i] Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle; Transformed by Hope

[ii] Chittister, p 93

[iii] Chittister, p 22

[iv] Chittiester, p 82

Imagine This

Imagine This

Luke 17:11-19

October 9, 2016


Imagine that one day you look down at your wrist,

and you notice a red spot.

You try to rub it away but it doesn’t disappear.

You ignore it.


But then the next day you wake up and you notice it again,

and maybe it’s a little bit larger and redder

and maybe there’s another spot on your other arm,

and maybe one on your leg too.


Now you feel your heart pounding a bit.

You don’t know what it is,

but you don’t want anyone else to see,

so you cover it up as best you can…

draping a shawl over your arms,

wearing a long skirt  – covering your ankles.

Continue reading

Give Us More Faith!


Give Us More Faith

Luke 17:5-10

October 2, 2016


On a scale of 1-10,

how much faith do you have?


Collectively I guess we’d run the gamut…


Some of us here might say we have an 8 or a 9:

we’re trusting God;

we’re confident in God’s plan for us and the world,

fearless for the future,

grateful for the present.


But that’s probably not many of us.


I’d guess that most of us feel closer to the other end of the scale…

a 2 or a 3 …

or maybe it seems like we’ve lost faith altogether.


Hey, if it could happen to Mother Teresa,

it can happen to any of us.


For 50 years Mother Teresa struggled

with the absence of faith.

As a young woman she experienced God’s call in striking visions

which told her to leave home and come to Calcutta to work with the poor and dying.


Her superiors were skeptical,

but she was so certain that this is what God had as a plan for her,

that she persisted and went anyway.


But soon afterwards,

in the midst of the work she was doing,

for years, she wrote things like this to her spiritual advisor:


“Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me–The silence and the emptiness is so great–that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear.”[i]


In her letters she described the dryness and the darkness of her faith,

at times questioning the very existence of God.


This is Saint Mother Teresa.


“Give me more faith!” was Mother Teresa’s prayer for half a century.


“Give us more faith!” the disciples plead to Jesus.

And Jesus says – you have enough.


I think the disciples must be thinking to themselves….how does he know?

Does he really know what keeps us up at night?

We don’t care about mulberry trees…

We just want to have that feeling back again that we’re doing the right thing.

That we’re not wasting our time here…


Give us more faith!


I suppose what they want is some certainty…

some help in believing some of the things Jesus taught they find hard to swallow.


And isn’t that a struggle most of us have?

There are things Jesus taught, there are some things in our Scripture that are really hard to swallow!


But in the gospel of Luke, faith isn’t a head thing at all – it’s not believing/understanding…

it’s embodied, it’s active.


In Luke, Jesus says that faith is the four companions

who carry their paralyzed friend through the roof of a house so he can be in the presence of Jesus. (Luke 5:17-26).


In Luke, Jesus says that faith is the woman who responds with love to forgiveness she’s received

by washing his feet with expensive ointment (Luke 7:44-50).


In Luke, Jesus says that faith is the woman bleeding for 12 years who is willing to take a risk in touching Jesus’ robe (Luke 8:43-48).


To us today, Jesus says that faith is active – just doing the things that need to be done – as a slave would do for a master…even though they don’t seem particularly remarkable.


(From David Lose[ii]…:


Faith is going to work and doing a good job.


Faith is listening to someone who needs to talk.


Faith is getting the kids off to school.


Faith is sitting with someone in the cafeteria who looks like they could use a friend.


Faith is praying for a neighbor who’s having a hard time.


Faith is volunteering at Carpenter’s Shelter.


Faith is voting even when the choice of candidates seems discouraging.


The list could go on and on.


“Faith is a mighty active thing,”

Martin Luther said.

God’s Work/Our Hands.


Mother Teresa didn’t think she had much faith…

but as we all know, she moved some mulberry trees!


There’s another aspect of faith which doesn’t have to do with the head,

and also doesn’t have to do with the hands and ‘doing stuff’,

but has to do with the heart –

That aspect of faith is ‘trust.’


There was a podcast about ‘trust’ on the TEd Radio Hour recently.[iii]

The speaker was Charles Hazlewood, a conductor of orchestras all around the world.


He talked about a dynamic I never really thought about before –

the trust between conductors and musicians.


He says there’s a terrifying moment when the conductor raises his or her arm to signal the musicians…..

and then has to trust that the musicians will read that gesture

and respond to it.


The conductor has to trust that somehow 90 or so people

all will come together at that moment.

            “It’s a small miracle,” he says!


According to Hazlewood,

trust is the key ingredient.

He says that there has to be an unshakeable bond of trust

which makes the relationship between conductor and musicians work.


And in fact, he adds, trust is a key ingredient that makes any relationship work….

including the relationship between us and God.


Trust allows us to believe that despite any evidence to the contrary,

things will turn out alright in the end:

there will be peace;

there will be justice;

there will be joy.


Faith is trust in the relationship.

No small miracle some days!




“Give us more faith!” the disciples plead.

Faith isn’t a head thing-

it is a heart thing and a hands thing.

Faith trusts and faith acts.

Jesus says we already have enough for both.











Brave Today


Brave Today

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Ephesians 3:20-21

September 4, 2016


On this Labor Day weekend, I am reminded that

work isn’t always “safe.”

Some jobs make it onto reality TV shows because they’re outrageously dangerous –

ice road truckers for examples.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as an ‘ice road trucker,’

but the show on the History channel

tells the stories of these men and women who drive their heavy loads over frozen lakes

to bring supplies to remote areas in Canada and Alaska.[i]

Yes – an accident waiting to happen!


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,

in 2014 there were nearly 3 million non-fatal work-related injuries,

and almost 5000 people died from injuries on the job.

(And these are only the physical injuries.)

Continue reading

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna


Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and the Other Benefactors

Luke 8:1-3

August 28, 2016


Jen Moore, one of our members starts seminary this fall.

She moved into her seminary dorm room in Philadelphia this week.

Jen posted on Facebook (she gave me permission to share this story!) that it seems that everything at seminary

is named for a donor – including her room.


There’s a plaque on her door stating that

she now lives in the “Mr. and Mrs. Blanck” room.


To get in the spirit of things Jen decided to name her personal benefactors too…

So she has the “Noah Moore coffee corner” since Noah gave her a coffee maker,

and she has the “Barbara O’Keefe reading chair” with a prayer shawl Barbara made.

The other night she celebrated with a popcorn break brought to her by Lynne.

(No word yet on whether she has a plaque for the popcorn!)


Jen’s room is filled with reminders of her benefactors –

those who support her in ministry.


From these 3 little verses from Luke, we see that

Jesus’ ministry relied on benefactors too.


Luke talks about two groups of people

who were traveling with Jesus as he went through cities and villages in Galilee:

there were the “Twelve”;

and there were “some women …”


Three of these women are named:

Mary called Magdalene;

Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward;

and Susanna.


Luke says that these three and many more served Jesus

and “provided for them out of their resources.”


Did you realize that Jesus was accompanied in his ministry not only by the twelve,

but by a group of women?

Did you know that they not only followed him, but supported Jesus and the rest of his followers

out of their own means?

Continue reading